18 July 2007

Branching out with a little cognitive psychology

Taking a cue from the illustrious PZ Myers, I'd like to diversify a little bit, and write about something not directly atheism-related.

As you may or may not know, I occasionally contribute to SUGAA Headquarters, the collective blog of the Scientists United for the Global Advancement of Awesomeness (a pack within Ze Frank's ORG). I've tended to focus on evolution (specifically, debunking creationism) so far on this blog, but that's hardly where my interests begin and end. At Dartmouth, I majored in Biology (concentrating in neurobiology and genetics) with a minor in Physics (primarily electricity & magnetism), and I always keep my ear to the ground regarding developments in all the sciences. Even though grad school is still a year off and I'm not what you might call an expert in any field, I still love sharing what I've learned so far.

For instance, yesterday my fiancee found a cool video on YouTube, and it got me thinking about cognitive psychology.

Problem solving is one of the big questions still facing psychologists. How do we solve problems? And what gets in the way of our problem solving?

One of the big difficulties that people face in problem solving is called functional fixedness. Certain types of problems require that we think of a novel use for an object in order to obtain the solution. Functional fixedness gets in the way by latching on to what we know about an object's normal use and refusing to let us think of anything else. For the ultimate success story in overcoming functional fixedness, think of MacGyver. For him, practically nothing has a fixed mundane use; paper clips become lock picks or radio antennae, and chewing gum can defuse a bomb.

(Read more at SUGAA HQ)

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